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OVERCOMING CHALLENGES AT IRONMAN 70.3 ST GEORGE a Race Recap from Team VPA athlete Daniel @veganpoweredathlete

OVERCOMING CHALLENGES AT IRONMAN 70.3 ST GEORGE a Race Recap from Team VPA athlete Daniel @veganpoweredathlete

This was my fourth time to St George. Second time racing, first time at 70.3 distance here. I was supposed to race the 70.3 World Championship here in October 2022 after qualifying at 70.3 Galveston earlier in the year.  I was probably at my best fitness of my life. Ready to race the worlds best until getting hit by a car on the bike 2 weeks before. To say this race had a lot of emotion behind it would be an understatement. Standing in the swim coral, as I listened to the beeps of 2 athletes starting at a time, the amazing view of the red mountains beyond the swim arch, I began to cry. It was finally my day to enjoy this course.

I knew my fitness wasn’t the same as in 2022. But why I race wasn’t the same either.  There is more meaning to the never ending pursuit of being the best you can on the day. Finding joy in the struggle and heartaches. Finding peace and gratitude in every arm stroke, peddle stroke and step! Today is a celebration!

Things derailed pretty quickly however straight from the swim. The water was not as cold as I expected.  The first couple hundred yards seemed pretty easy. But then my breathing got real shallow. I had a hard time taking in a full breath. I kind of felt like I was sinking but it wasn’t a panic feeling, I just couldn’t breathe. I’m sure the sinking feeling was just swimming in fresh water vs salt water.  I wasn’t sure if the breathing was  related to the pneumothorax or asthma but I really contemplated pulling the plug multiple times. Doubt was creeping in. I didn't want it to get to a panic stage so I focused on calming my breathe.  The mind was questioning why this was happening. Then about halfway through my right shoulder began to hurt. I’ve really struggled lately with shoulder pain in a wetsuit. It doesn’t bother me in the pool so I am not sure if it’s the wetsuit changing my stroke causing it?? At this point I was at the second turn buoy. Talking myself into believing it wasn’t much farther. Every buoy seemed to get farther and farther though. I was counting them and it seemed there was one or two extra compared to the other side. It was the second to worst swim I’ve ever had in a 70.3 at 37:10. The other one, also in a reservoir which tends to get real choppy.

Out of the water, up the ramp and I forgot they had wetsuit peelers so I was unprepared and didn’t have my suit down to my waist. I couldn’t get ahold of the zipper and finally asked the volunteer for help. The 2 of them then proceeded to peel it off but couldn’t get it off my arms. Finally pulled off my arms and had same problem getting off my legs. I neglected to practice this as I changed what wetsuit i was going to wear just the week before. Rookie mistake. Lost some time. Ran to bike. Began to put on socks and hips cramped up from shivering so I couldn’t get my leg up to put on socks. Sat down to put socks on but then my ab cramped up. I’ve experienced this before even in warmer swims and really need to figure out why my hips cramp or go without socks until the run. Still not a horrible transition at 5:22 but if you know me it’s a pet peeve of mine. Free time!

Got on the bike and the first descent out of the parking lot was freezing. I was shivering so bad my entire bike was shaking. I knew I needed to take in some calories because I forgot to take my my syrup gel just prior to swim because I left it in my drop bag. Another rookie mistake. But I was shivering so bad I couldn’t get anything out of my bento box. So I tried to sip some of my liquid calorie mix and it was so thick I could barely drink it. OMG. Another rookie mistake. It was only 1 scoop more than what I usually do and I assumed it would be ok. Damn. Is anyone counting all the mistakes? 

As I continued cycling through the reservoir park I realized I was breathing really heavy. I felt very disoriented, like my equilibrium was off and felt like I couldn’t catch my breath.  I looked down at my HR and it said 77. That can’t be right??  Something was definitely off. I pedaled lightly for about 5 miles until I warmed up and felt a little safer to get into aero. My head and HR still felt off but manageable if I stayed focused. I didn’t want to risk taking my hands off the handle bars for fueling. I tried every once in awhile as I came to a climb to sip some of the thick goo I had created in my bottles.  I so disoriented I really questioned if I should continue. 

About 90 minutes into the ride I finally felt a little better but now my back was already was screaming (still a lingering issue from the bike accident). My HR was still abnormally low and I had a hard time taking a full breath still without coughing. I continued to sip my mix every 10-15 minutes and by the 2 hour mark I finished off all my @untappedmaple. At least I got those 500 calories in and probably why I felt a little better.  It was really starting to warm up now and I would take a fresh water bottle at every aid station. Usually I only use the water to dowse myself to stay cool but I was drinking some of it to wash down the mix.  I felt like I was constantly drifting off and my power would drop. I had to keep reminding myself to stay focused and bring up my power within the power range. Tell tail sign I was under calories. I did start to feel a little niggle in my right knee a couple times. Tried not to put focus on it and keep pedaling.

I was happy to get to snow canyon and be able to stretch out a bit and surprisingly had a 4:44 minute PR up Snow Canyon. My HR finally increased but only to what my typical Z2 is.  The bike leg seemed to go by really fast, maybe because I had to put so much focus on staying upright that I wasn't focused on how far or fast I was going.  I didn’t have the bike split I wanted but looking at the numbers after, I actually came in on the low end of my power targets. (Though these numbers are 20 watts lower than what they were in 2022).  The last 10 miles back into town are always so much fun and fast! Got off the bike in under 3 hours which I’ll take under the circumstances and let’s go run! (After the race I combined my bottles and realized I only drank 1 full bottle in the 3 hours)

As I approached the dismount I took my feet out of shoes and left them on the bike. I didn’t pay attention the day before at gear drop off to notice that the parking lot was full of small pebbles and even some glass. So running to my rack was a little hard on the feet. Overall a 1:47 transition so won’t complain too much but another rookie mistake.

Took in some syrup and initially felt good out of transition but that faded fast up the first hill.  I very quickly realized the lack of energy and run fitness I had especially for a hilly course and not running much the prior 3 weeks while nursing a knee injury. Do I really want to do this? I was asking myself. Do you really want to risk blowing up your knee? Do you really want to be out here all day long walking the 13 miles? The mind was relentless!! I convinced myself I can do it. I’ll just take the hills really easy and bomb the downhills. I’ve ran this first 3 mile section so many times and it never felt this hard.  Just before the first aid station I saw Gloria from Team VPA cheering.  That gave me a spark to get up this hill! 

At the first aid station I started the cola fueling strategy.  I had plenty of calories in my pockets now that I grabbed in transition.  I should have consumed more to catch up but I left them in my pocket and only took the cola at the remaining aid stations. I think there was only 2 aid stations I walked or had to stop to make sure I got water or ice to cool off. I just kept telling myself to keep moving forward. It’s only 2 loops. But man, each loop seemed so long.  I kept asking myself how can we go all the way out this far and still get back and it only be 6.5 miles.  haha.  On the second loop at about mile 8 I started to feel a little niggle in the left knee (not the knee I’ve had problems with). Oh oh I thought. Can it hold out for another 5 miles? I made it another 2 miles and admittedly my mind was on my knee constantly. Should I walk? Should I pull out completely? Is it worth it? This shouldn’t be happening! On and on. The mind again was relentless. I ignored the mind and shifted to gratitude and just kept putting one foot in front of the other.  All the aid station volunteers were so nice and helpful. It really was a great day.

At mile 9 the right knee began to have a niggle and the left knee got severely worse. I can do this I kept telling myself. It’s only 4 more miles. I do that on a Tuesday. Let’s gooo! Plus once I got to mile 10 I knew it was all downhill. I tried to pick up my knees more while running and that seemed to help the pain. With 2 miles to go, the right knee almost collapsed. I hobbled a little and tried to pick up my stride. It happened 2 more times before I got to that red carpet. I also felt a hamstring cramp coming on which I never cramp other than the hip issue from swim to bike transitions. I took some Mortal hydration at the second to last aid station hoping the extra salt would help. (Knowing now that I only had 1 bottle on the bike, this makes sense) There was glimpses of sub 8 minute running on the downhills but those up hills were painful and slow. It took all my mental focus to not walk. 

As I crossed the finish line, I was overwhelmed with a sense of pride and accomplishment. The support from the crowd, fellow competitors, and volunteers had been instrumental in helping me push through the challenges I faced during the race. Hearing Vegan and/or Beard shout outs always gives me so much energy and is appreciated.  It was a tough battle with my mind and body, but ultimately, I emerged stronger and more determined than ever before.

The race tested me in ways I had not anticipated, but it also provided me with valuable lessons and opportunities for growth. The experience has reinforced my commitment to racing with joy and appreciation, and I look forward to future challenges with renewed motivation. Despite the hardships faced during the race, I was grateful for the chance to endure the suffering to achieve such growth.

Ironman 70.3 St. George was a transformative experience that taught me resilience, perseverance, and the power of gratitude in the face of adversity. It was a reminder of the strength that lies within us when we push beyond our limits and embrace the journey with an open heart.